Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars now available for Kindle and iBooks (updated)


Note: This post was originally published on September 27, 2016. Since then, we’ve received additional details from Faber regarding the e-book’s publication. Additionally, since the time of the original post, the e-book has become available on the Kindle e-reader app for iPad and iPhone, and so this post has been updated accordingly on October 9, 2016.

With little fanfare, Faber has recently made Elaine Gould’s music notation reference Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation available for the first time in electronic format, for Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle-compatible devices and Apple’s iBooks app on Macs and iOS devices. The e-book was released on last month on August 19, 2016; the hardcover edition has been in print since January 20, 2011.


Priced at $36 in Amazon’s US store or £24 in Amazon’s UK store, with similar pricing for the iBooks platform in Apple’s US and Apple’s UK stores, the 694-page tome is faithfully reproduced from the original printed edition with the same layout, pagination and illustrative musical examples. As a result, some of the more sophisticated features available in other e-books, such as flexible font type and size, are not available in the e-version of Behind Bars. The result is akin to reading a static PDF on your device.

About this, Faber’s digital manager Catherine Walker told me:

Our initial wish was to convert the book into a reflowable format so that we could achieve the usual sophisticated features that are becoming the standard expectation of e-book readers. However, after literally months of trying to get it right, we continued to encounter numerous problems with layout formatting and image rendering due to the size of the file and the number of images contained within it. So, in the end we went for a fixed-layout format. While it omits certain features, the quality of the overall product was much greater than what we’d been able to achieve previously and more fitting with caliber we think readers of Behind Bars would expect.

At about one-third the weight (the hardcover weighs more than three pounds compared to a one-pound iPad), the pre-eminent resource for music notation can now go with you wherever your device goes, and it’s become more affordable to boot — it’s about one-third of the list price of the hardcover edition.

Although the Kindle version of Behind Bars was originally not supported on the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone, this has since been corrected, and so iPad and iPhone users wishing to read the book on those devices have the option to purchase it either through Amazon or through iBooks, depending on their preferred reading app. The book is also supported on Amazon’s Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets, the Kindle app for Android, Mac, and Windows PC, as well as Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader.

The digital editions were created using CircularFLO; a testimonial from Catherine Walker appears on Circular Software’s web site:

Using the CircularFLO software has allowed us to publish a fully searchable ebook to Amazon and Apple which has faithfully reproduced the complex musical notations directly from the print PDFs that are critical to this book (Behind Bars – the definitive guide to music notation by Elaine Gould). The ebook files look fantastic and we’re really pleased with it – the author is delighted!

The pages themselves are bitmapped as opposed to being vectorized. It’s not noticeable at an ordinary reading size, but if you zoom in very close you may notice slight pixelation and anti-aliasing of the text and images.

One deficiency of the e-book edition is that the headings and locators in the book’s meticulous index aren’t hyperlinked to the corresponding page(s) where the material can be referenced. This is an unfortunate omission, although at least chapter headings are hyperlinked. On the other hand, the book is searchable, perhaps obviating the necessity of the index; bear in mind that searches for the most common terms will require a bit of patience to sort through the results.

Indeed, when asked about this, Faber’s Catherine Walker said:

Given the chapter headers are hyperlinked and the quality of the search facility in both the Kindle and iBook versions is excellent, it was decided that links from the index itself were not necessary. However, if user feedback indicates this would be a useful feature we are willing to consider embedding links in future editions.

Searching Behind Bars on iBooks for Mac

When Behind Bars was published five years ago, it quickly became the modern standard reference for music notation. and I ordered my copy right away. While it’s been worth every penny, I immediately yearned for a digital edition that I could take with me everywhere, both for quick reference and for the pleasure of more leisurely learning when stuck on a train or at an airport.

That wish has finally been granted. Despite the peculiarities with the digital transfer mentioned above, I’m thrilled that Faber has made this valuable content more accessible, and it now occupies prime space on my bookshelves — virtual ones included.

Updated on October 9, 2016.


  1. Mark Sealey

    Thanks, Philip.

    Venerable is the word!

    May I sneak this in, in case it’s of any help:

  2. Bob Zawalich

    It really is a great book, and I am glad to have a searchable version of it, but it would be nicer if you could just use it like other Kindle books in the Kindle app.

    Kind of odd that it works in the Android Kindle app but not the Apple version.

    I have a Windows PC and an iPad Pro. Can I buy one copy and then have copies of it on both platforms, or do I have to buy a copy for each platform?

    Is there a format that will actually work on both platforms?

    Thanks for letting us know about this, Philip.

    1. Philip Rothman

      I’m not sure of the reason it’s not available on the Kindle app on iOS and neither was the Amazon rep I spoke with. I’ll try to find out more. But for the moment, if you have a Windows PC and an iPad Pro, you’d have to buy each version separately, it appears.

      1. Philip Rothman

        A bit more info: Amazon told me that “it depends upon the publisher and author to make the books available for the specific Kindle apps.” I’ve reached out to Faber to ask further.

  3. Adrian Holovaty

    For folks who have already purchased a hard copy: I recommend 1dollarscan.com, which will make high-quality PDF scans of your books (including OCR) for super cheap.

    I did that with my hard copy of Behind Bars about a year ago, with no regrets. Downside is that they shred your physical book and you don’t get it back.

  4. Max Tofone

    Thanks Philip for this news…

    A wonderful reference book that I use all the time, glad that it is now in digital format.

  5. Bill

    Amazon lists the kindle version without any mention of OS restrictions.

    1. Philip Rothman

      If you click on “Available on the devices” you’ll see that under “Free Kindle Reading Apps”, the Kindle for iPad/iPhone isn’t listed, like it is for most books.

      1. Bill

        Hmmm… Windows PC is greyed out too

  6. Fraser sims

    When this was first posted, download sample to my iPadwas greyed out. Checked today and have managed to download a sample to my ipad pro so im guessing that whatever issues amazon had are now sorted.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Fraser, indeed, it appears that the book is now available for Kindle on iOS devices, which is excellent news. I also received additional information from Faber, which I’ll roll into an update to this post soon. Thanks!

  7. Chuck Wild

    The version for Kindle reader on the Mac (using El Capitan) is marginally unreadable, as the type size is unfortunately fixed and small. I communicated with Faber several times and they acknowledged this is an issue. I was told “We were given the option of either making the text searchable or zoom-able. As this is a reference book we gave the search functionality precedence over the zoom”. I don’t understand why they can’t both use zoom and search like most Kindle books.

  8. Bob Zawalich

    I think being able to use it on the Apple Kindle apps makes it a lot more attractive.

    I might personally hold out to see if the indexes get made into links. A big advantage to Behind Bars is its index, which tends to get you to the information you want quite quickly.

    I compare this to Gardner Reed’s Music Notation, whose index was to me almost unusable, and which resembles the kinds of results you get with a search on common terms. You tend to be buried in entries that will not help you.

    I really liked Reed when I could find what I wanted, but it was often so frustrating to find it that I would choose a different reference (and I have a whole shelf of them). The hardcover Behind Bars, though, is really all I use these days.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Agreed, Bob, re. the indices in Gould and Reed.

  9. Chris Swaffer

    Marvellous news – great to be able to take it anywhere now!

    Had some problems viewing the book on Kindle for iOS (it now indeed says it is compatible and the sample opens fine, but the book itself comes up with a compatibility error). This may work itself through if it was only recently made available.

    However iBooks on iOS is ok – though shows in two page spreads rather than single pages as per the Kindle iOS sample. And the pixellation as noted by Philip above is a little more noticeable on iPad Pro – but I would absolutely rather have have this and preserve all that thought and care that went into the original layout, than the alternative!

    1. Eric

      I also cannot get the Kindle ebook to work on iOS devices.

      It says “Item not available for this device type” whenever I try to download it to my iPad. The sample, as others mentioned, DOES work on iOS, but the book itself does not (at least for me).

      Philip, perhaps you could let your contact at Faber know that there appears to be a compatibility problem?

      1. Philip Rothman

        Eric, according to Amazon, it should work now with Kindle on the iPad. When did you purchase it? If it was before it was made available for iPad, perhaps you could get a refund from Amazon and re-purchase it?

  10. Paolo

    I’ve downloaded both the Kindle (Mac) and iBooks (Mac) sample. Does anybody else notices how blurred is the text in iBooks?

    1. Paolo

      To give more details: traditional ebooks don’t have the same issue with iBooks. This is an issue only with this particular book.

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